Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit
Milk! Records / Mom + Pop Music
March 24, 2015
There’s a moment on the opening track of Courtney Barnett’s debut album where she lists reasons not to jump off a building. An older woman gets on a rooftop elevator with a man she mistakes as suicidal. Speaking for the woman, Barnett sings, “Don’t jump off that roof, little boy / Don’t jump off that roof / You’ve got your whole life ahead of you / You’re still in your youth”. The woman’s final plea, a compliment, is a real kicker, a memorable line among many on the album: “I’d give anything to have skin like you”. It’s all about these kind of details for Barnett. She collects them, and Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit is full of them. The funny, the clever, the mundane. Her album is the kind you repeatedly listen to and share with others, picking favorite lines and moments, hoping every listen rewards you with something you hadn’t noticed before.
It won’t take repeated listens, though, to realize Courtney Barnett’s uniqueness. Her witty songs and thick Australian accent grab you from the start. Opener “Elevator Operator” rollicks along as she sings about a man skipping work to enjoy a rooftop view. Stinging power chords introduce second track and lead single “Pedestrian At Best”, where Barnett examines her growing popularity and resulting worries. “Put me on a pedestal / And I’ll only disappoint you / Tell me I’m exceptional / I promise to exploit you” goes the chorus. The track kicks off an essential discussion in Barnett’s album, which are her insecurities.
Barnett’s insecurities are common enough, things like relationships and adulthood, but it’s the way she presents them that has you taking notice. A deteriorating hotel room shapes her song of jet leg and longing in “An Illustration of Loneliness (Sleepless in New York)”. An uncut lawn spurs meditation on a soured relationship in “Small Poppies”. A deceased estate informs her house hunting woes in “Depreston”. Barnett is able to take trivial, miniscule details surrounding an event and make them sound more vital than any grand statement could. Let’s go back to “An Illustration”. Missing her partner (fellow Australian singer Jen Cloher) in that hotel room, Barnett sings: “Wondering what you’re doing / What you’re listening to / Which quarter of the moon you’re viewing from your bedroom / Watching all the movies / Drinking all the smoothies / Swimming at the pool / I’m thinking of you too”. This catalogue of small gestures shows Barnett is indeed thinking of her. She sentimentalizes the specific, and that proves to be one of her greatest charms.
It is with small details in mind that I end this review mentioning Courtney Barnett’s record label. She runs her own, which is named Milk! Records. She does her own album artwork, and she signs and releases local talent on the label. I’d just like to applaud her for that. I’d also like to applaud her for the most calming guitar line I’ve heard in a while. Take a listen to “Depreston” below, and tell me that little riff isn’t the nicest thing you’ve heard lately. It’s the kind of line you want to learn on guitar, playing it over and over while you go over those little thoughts in your head – thoughts like the ones you’re sure to have after listening to Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit.